Cover photo for Verna Jean West's Obituary
Verna Jean West Profile Photo

Verna Jean West

January 30, 1947 — March 15, 2021

Verna Jean West

Verna Jean West died of cancer on March 15, 2021 in Watkinsville, GA. Verna was smart, assertive, creative, engaging, and a great teacher.

She was born in 1947 to a working class “Brady Bunch”-like family who were brought together by her parents, Stewart Grieb and Helen Kismaric, when they married. Her grandparents on her mother’s side were immigrants. Verna was one of six siblings, and was the first in her family to attend college, earning a BA in Music from Trenton State College (now known as the College of New Jersey).

A resident of Athens, GA since the 1980s, Verna was a longtime music teacher at Whitehead Road Elementary and Chase Street Elementary, where she was known for her elaborate annual Christmas pageants. She touched many lives as a music teacher, and would often be recognized around town by former students.

Music was her passion, her gift, and her vocation. She shared it throughout her life as a church organist and choir director, as a music teacher, and with friends and family. She was primarily a pianist, but was also a skilled guitarist, harpsichordist, and dulcimer player. She played and loved a range of music, from classical to pop. Her children woke up on weekend mornings to the scent of coffee brewing and the sound of albums from Bach to the Beatles.

Verna loved life and married three times, first to Jack Fishman, a fellow music major at Trenton State. They had two sons, both born in 1968 (Aaron in January and Ben in December). Her second marriage was to Gary West, a minister, in 1976. Over 20 plus years of marriage, they moved from New Jersey to Snyder, Texas, where they welcomed a daughter, Jenny West, in 1978. In 1982, they did volunteer work with refugees at Jubilee Partners in Comer, GA, before settling in the Athens area. Verna’s third marriage was to Vic Froehlke on New Year’s Eve of 1999, with whom she traveled widely before his death in 2014.

She passed along many gifts to her children: a love of the arts, music, and travel, and a respect and tolerance for all people. She was also a woman of faith and gave of her time and musical gifts to churches of many denominations. After she learned her illness was terminal, she wrote: “Farewell, beloveds. Did my best and am proud of all of you!”

She will be missed by many, including her brother Steve Grieb and his wife Cynthia Yin who devoted their time to her during her last months; her children and grandchildren: Aaron Fishman and his wife Marci Smith and their children Abigail and Evan; Ben Fishman and his wife Julia and their children Kate and Noah; and Jenny VanNess and her husband Eric and their children Austin and Lily; many nieces and nephews and cousins; and friends and co-workers and past students from the Athens area. She was predeceased by her parents and her siblings Charles Grieb, Ethel Traubel, and Doris Porco, and also by a great friend to her in her later years—Hal Cofer. She is survived by her children and grandchildren, her brother Steve Grieb, her sister Barbara Iapalucci, and her lifelong friend Marie Ortega.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to her preferred charities: World Vision, Habitat for Humanity, Bethlehem Ministries, Athens Community Council on Aging, and the Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support. Her family would also like to thank Inspiring Hospice, Magnolia Estates, and Christopher’s Bridge for the tremendous care they provided her in her last months of life.

Condolences may be sent to the family at

Berry Funeral Home & Crematory of Elberton is in charge of arrangements.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Verna Jean West, please visit our flower store.


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